NFC South preseason story lines

It’s the third week of the preseason, which is significant. That’s because teams usually take the third game more seriously and play their starters into the second half.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some storylines for each of this week’s NFC South games:

Atlanta at Miami, Friday

Preseason results may not matter. But the Falcons have the NFL’s longest active preseason losing streak (seven games). Atlanta’s first-team offense and defense have looked good in the first two weeks. It’s the backups that have cost the Falcons victories. You can bet Mike Smith has been stressing the importance of “finishing."

Rookie tackle Lamar Holmes missed the first two preseason games with a broken toe. But Holmes is expected to play against the Dolphins and all eyes will be on him. With veteran Will Svitek out with a season-ending injury, Holmes becomes the next option after Sam Baker.

New England at Tampa Bay, Friday

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has said he’s patterned a lot of what he does after New England coach Bill Belichick. The two coaches are friendly and their teams will hold joint workouts in Tampa on Wednesday and Thursday.

I know coaches hold a lot back in the preseason and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I would like to see the Tampa Bay combination of Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson at least click a little bit. Jackson has only one catch in the preseason.

Houston at New Orleans, Saturday

Against a Jacksonville team that didn’t have Maurice Jones-Drew and did have quarterback Blaine Gabbert last week, the New Orleans first defense didn’t look good. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo still is teaching his system, but this is the last real audition for the Saints (who are playing their fourth preseason game) to grasp it.

With backup Chris Chamberlain lost for the season and starters Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne banged up, linebacker suddenly has become a hot topic for the Saints. Some young linebackers that came into camp with little apparent chance to make the roster, now have a shot to be contributors early in the season.

Carolina at New York Jets, Sunday

Coach Ron Rivera has hinted that linebacker Thomas Davis could make his preseason debut in this game. According to Carolina’s medical staff, Davis is attempting to become the first NFL player to come back from three torn ACLs.

Cam Newton and Tim Tebow will be in the same stadium. That alone is significant because of the hype they bring. But they also have history. Newton once was a backup to Tebow at the University of Florida.